Expounding the Dharma

‘To expound the dharma with this body is foremost. The virtue returns to the ocean of reality. It is unfathomable; we just accept it with respect and gratitude.’ (Dogen’s Commentary on the Tenth Grave Precept)

The weather has turned warmer again in the Bay Area, which always gladdens my heart. For a few days, it looked like it might rain on the day of the Zen-a-thon, giving us a repeat of 2016, but in the end it was as fine a spring morning as last year, with the added bonus of Highway 1 being open again down to Green Gulch, so there was no diversion via Muir Woods.
On the other hand, rain swept through the following afternoon and into Monday morning – it was touch and go whether we would be able to have our regular sit outside. In the end we decided to set the cushions out on a tarp, right under the olive tree. A few of our regulars had joined us, and after a period of blue skies, it started to drizzle right as we began to sit; but only for a few minutes. The cold wind was more of an issue for me. There was another momentary sprinkling before the clock struck the hour, but then the skies cleared a little, and our regulars endured it all mindfully.

As I have remarked before, it is warm weather like we are having that reminds me how lucky I am to be living in California. I feel lucky to be working three days a week on a potentially deeply rewarding project that basically pays my rent; lucky to have a place to live in San Francisco that is cheap enough to afford with my meagre income; and lucky to be able to devote other days to teaching in different ways and locations.

The past week has been an interesting manifestation of that. On Friday morning I rode my bike right across town to a middle school, to talk to some sixth graders. Their teacher comes to Zen Center regularly, and has invited me in the past to speak to his classes once they have studied a little about Buddha’s life. I talked to one class in the morning, starting with a little sitting, and another, for a double-length session, in the afternoon.
As expected, not all the kids were into the idea or the practice, but enough of them were engaged and enthusiastic for it to feel very rewarding. In the couple of hours I had between the sessions, I rode a few blocks north, and ended up at China Beach, which I have only visited once before. The warmth was uncertain, as fog was rolling up the Golden Gate and progressively obscuring the bridge, but there were some families enjoying the beach, and it was a very restful place to spend the time – and I realised it would make a great destination for the next roam (this coming Sunday!)

Leaving the school on Friday afternoon, I headed right back across town, through the 4/20 gathering in the park – some roads were closed to cars, and others were jammed solid – down to the county jail for a one-on-one session with one of the inmates who has been a regular at my meditation sessions and who I have met individually a couple of times before. This is notionally spiritual counselling, though in this case our conversation began with us discussing his partner’s travails in getting her taxes filed, and then him outlining the latest developments in the case he is being charged with, details of which he has shared with me before.

The next morning I was on my bike again, covering the few blocks over to Zen Center to offer the zazen instruction. I told the group that they were more attentive and focused than the sixth-graders; almost all the fifteen or so people who came looked very comfortable and relaxed while they were sitting.
Afterwards I stayed to have a practice discussion with a resident who I have met with before, whose current practice issues span the personal, institutional and the cultural, which made for an intense, but rich and connecting meeting.

As I have mentioned before, making money is not a primary objective for me (I have managed to file and pay my taxes, and it left me pretty much nothing in the bank). There was no payment offered or expected for any of the activities I have written about above. While I often feel personal benefit in doing what I do, my wish is for the benefit to spread widely.

The day before the Zen-a-Thon I had met with someone who had attended Young Urban Zen in its earliest years, before leaving San Francisco; that she wanted to connect with me to talk about practice almost six years on spoke to how the group had impacted her in ways she has been unable to replicate elsewhere. While I was at Zen Center, a resident let me know that one of the Zen-a-Thon organisers had announced in that morning residents’ meeting that a participant in the bike ride had declared it one of the best days of her life! In the zazen instruction, one of the attendees asked why it felt so much easier to sit with other people in the room. At the school, one of the pupils had asked me what good might come out of the loving-kindness meditation that the teacher had suggested for the afternoon class. I said that if she left the class and smiled at somebody, then that good feeling might ripple out; if everybody left the class and smiled at their school-mates, who knows what kind of shift might occur. Our energy and our presence affects those around us, even if we are not always aware of how it happens. That is one thing I trust about practice. It is unfathomable; we just accept it with respect and gratitude.

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